In England, almost all crematories are on the grounds of a cemetery, with an attached chapel for services. Consequently, the British are much more open and knowledgeable about cremation. That tradition has followed to this country, most noticeably in Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.
In some states, however, crematories were established in an industrial area, perhaps by a vault company that never deals with the public. Progressive funeral homes are now bringing the crematory out of the back buildings and into the open. For a tasteful example, visit McDougald Funeral Home and Crematory in Laurinburg, NC.
What to look for when you do visit (or what to ask your funeral director if you don’t go yourself):
- Check for general cleanliness including inside the pickup vehicles and the retort (Have the cremains been completely removed since the last cremation?)
- How new is their equipment? (Modern cremation retorts have air scrubbers and emit very little polution. Some states are better than others in monitoring emissions.)
- Do they recycle pacemakers or know about such a project?
- Check the refrigeration or body-storage unit for cleanliness.
- What method of body identification do they use?
- May a family witness the cremation?
- Will they accept a body directly from family if all paperwork is in order? If not, why not? (Those willing to work directly with the public certainly have nothing to hide. One has to wonder about the others.) [Because of conflicting laws, this is not yet an option in CT, IN, LA, NE, and NY.]
- Do they keep a record of the type of container the body arrived in? (i.e., if a family wants to know if the maple casket was actually cremated, can the crematory answer that question a month later?)
- Ask to see the container in which they return cremains. Is it marked “temporary container”? Why? (This is a sleazy tactic to get consumers to purchase more expensive urns.)
- What is their response to a family who wishes to have the dental gold returned to them? (Dental gold disappears in the cremation process. Most dentists refuse to extract after death or will charge far more than it’s worth.)
- How many cremations do they perform per year? How many retorts do they have? (Hint: more than 3 or 4 cremations a day with only one retort would be an overtime schedule)
- Ask for a copy of their authorization form. Is it clear that they’re requesting authorization from the legal next-of-kin or designated agent? Or may anyone sign?
- What is their policy on abandoned cremated remains?
- Is the crematory licensed by any state agency? If so, how often does the agency do inspections? Are the visits announced ahead of time?